Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James K. A. Smith
(Baker Academic, 2013, 224 pages)
Imagining the Kingdom is the second of three proposed volumes in Jamie Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project. In the first installment, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Smith dealt with the role of human desires and affections in the shaping of a person’s worldview. He explored the way that liturgies – both the explicit liturgies of Christian worship, and what he terms “secular liturgies,” or ritual aspects of consumer and capitalist culture – shape our desires and our basic assumptions about the constitution of the world.
In Imagining the Kingdom Smith continues this project by looking more closely at how we holistically, not simply rationally, construe and make meaning of the world in which we live. He enlists the help of French phenomenologists Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bourdieu, offering expositions from their work to show how bodily perceptions and social/institutional habits shape our imaginations and provide the background against which we reason and interpret the world. These insights are then marshaled to give an in depth picture of how narrative and ritual inform our imaginations through both secular and religious liturgies.
While Smith is working in the area of philosophical theology, he also includes sidebars and asides that explore his themes through film and literature. This not only helpfully illustrates his points, but it also serves to reinforce the idea that narrative and other forms of non-propositional knowledge play an integral role in how we perceive of and act in the world. Smith’s ideas are in line with, and acknowledge a debt to, neuroscience’s recognition of the subconscious ways that we appropriate knowledge and interact with the world. This interdisciplinary approach is fascinating, and Smith succeeds in revealing the depth and complexity of our interaction with the world. More than this, he convincingly shows that traditional Christian worship as well as secular practices fundamentally shape and condition that interaction.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
(HarperCollins, 1952, 184 pages)
One of the marks of good children’s literature is the ability to convey sentiment without becoming sentimental. This is a mark of good literature in general of course, but sentimentality is a pitfall to which children’s books are particularly prone. This is (part of) the great accomplishment of E. B. White’s classic; in a story about the lives of farmyard animals he deals with the subjects of love, friendship, and death in a way that never sidesteps the harsh realities of life. What’s more, he does this with a plot that keeps children fully captivated, anxious to see whether Wilbur the pig will live or die and to find out which message Charlotte will spin next in her web. Through an evocative, beautiful, and funny depiction of life and change in an ordinary farmyard, White gently introduces children to the issues that will define the rest of their lives.
I read this to my three year old daughter, and she loved it. It seemed that each time a word, phrase, or concept was introduced that might be difficult for children to comprehend, White anticipates the child’s question and puts it in the mouth of one of his characters (usually Wilbur). I remember reading Charlotte’s Web as a child, and as an adult I found myself drawn in again, not only by the plot, but by the sense of place that White evokes. The beautiful descriptions of summer days and changing seasons of a farm form the perfect backdrop for the themes of the plot. This is the best of children’s literature – a book that engages a child’s love of the fantastic while depicting a world that an adult can recognize as true to the realities of life.
Identical by Ellen Hopkins
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010, 592 pages)
This young adult book is the story of a family: 16-year old identical twins, Kaeleigh and Raeanne, their father, a judge, and their mother who is running for Congress. This, however, is far from a perfect family. The dysfunction among the characters includes substance abuse, eating disorders, cutting, adultery, and sexual abuse. Despite the disturbing content, this is a great book. Mysteries build throughout, and revelations are unexpected. The audio version of Identical is read by a single narrator who does an excellent job altering her voice for various characters. I highly recommend it for those interested in psychology and mental illness.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
(First Second, 2013, 176 pages)
I love graphic novels and I love food, so Relish was a win for me 🙂 This graphic memoir recounts Knisley’s life growing up around food. Her mother is a chef/caterer and her dad is a food-lover who knows how to appreciate the finer things. Knisley grew up in New York City and then moved to upstate New York with her mother after her parents divorced. Exposed to foods at a young age that most people are scared to try even as adults, Knisley definitely had a unique upbringing. This memoir is broken down into key moments of her life and how they correlated with food. Graphic recipes are also included, which I loved.
This book was successful in that it made me want to be friends with the author, it made me want to cook, and it made me curious to try some of the new things she mentioned. If you like food and/or graphic novels, you’ll appreciate Knisley’s story and her artistry.
Gypped by Carol Higgins Clark
(Scribner, 2012, 224 pages)
Gypped is the fifteenth novel in the Regan Reilly Mystery series by Carol Higgins Clark. In this novel, Regan Reilly and her husband, Jack, take a trip from their home in New York to Jack’s conference in California. While in California, Regan runs into Zelda, an acquaintance from seven years earlier when the two of them appeared on a game show together. Neither Regan nor Zelda won the big prize on the game show, but Zelda has since struck it rich when her neighbor died and left her eight million dollars. When Regan and Zelda sit down to chat about their lives, Zelda quickly becomes ill. Is it food poisoning or is someone out to get Zelda and her money?
Gypped is a quick, short, read-in-one-sitting novel. The plot’s not new, but the dialogue is witty and the characters are fun. This is a good book to read in a waiting room or on vacation. I recommend it for anyone looking for some light reading.
In Darkness by Nick Lake
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2012, 352 pages)
I thought In Darkness was such a great read. This Printz Award winner didn’t start out in a way that really caught my attention, but after a few pages I found myself sucked in. I just wanted to keep reading and see where the story was going to go. Set in Haiti we are introduced to Shorty who has been buried in/under a hospital after the earthquake hit in 2010. While he recounts what led to him being where he is his story somehow becomes intertwined with the historical figure, Toussaint L’Ouverture. Both men are somehow connected to one another across time and space.
Shorty’s experiences are painful to read about (both what it’s like being buried in a hospital with no food or water and what his life was like growing up) but I thought Lake did a really good job conveying the reality of what life is like in Haiti because it’s rarely considered or discussed. One of my big takeaways from this book was the desire to learn more – a great sign from a work of historical fiction. I wanted to know more about Haiti’s history, specifically the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture whose name and basic story I knew, but who’s biography I’d never really felt compelled to delve into. Also, I’ve always had an interest in religion and I appreciated the way Lake treated vodou in this text. It’s a really interesting religion that people too often classify based on misunderstandings and false information. I definitely recommend looking into it – I find it fascinating.
I really enjoyed this book and I’d certainly recommend it.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
(Scholastic, 1999, 320 pages)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
(Scholastic, 2000, 341 pages)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
(Scholastic, 2001, 435 pages)
I decided to reread all the Harry Potter books this summer and I have sped through the first three in record time. It really is amazing what J.K. Rowling accomplished with these books; the plot is so tight, when you reread them you can see how thought out the story was from the very beginning. I’m catching things I didn’t the first time around and things I forgot about because they weren’t included in the movies. It’s been lot of fun so far!
You can check out Julia and Sadie‘s reviews of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
You can also see Julia’s reviews of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.